Journal of Cytology
Home About us Ahead of print Instructions Submission Subscribe Advertise Contact e-Alerts Login 
Users Online:144
  Print this page  Email this page Small font sizeDefault font sizeIncrease font size

CASE REPORT Table of Contents   
Year : 2007  |  Volume : 24  |  Issue : 3  |  Page : 142-145
Fine needle aspiration cytology of Gouty Tophi with review of literature

Department of Pathology, Lady Hardinge Medical College, New Delhi, India

Click here for correspondence address and email


Fine needle aspiration cytology (FNAC) is a valuable diagnostic tool and is replacing biopsy for the diagnosis of periarticular nodules. We present a case of fifty year old male with multiple soft tissue nodules in feet without any clinical and radiological features of arthritis. Fine needle aspiration revealed negatively birefringent needle shaped crystals consistent with monosodium urate crystals in amorphous granular debris. Diagnosis of gouty tophi was given. On follow up serum uric acid levels were found to be high and a diagnosis of gout was established. FNAC is a valuable diagnostic tool for the diagnosis of periarticular nodules and pathologists should be aware of cytological features of gouty tophi, particularly in cases of unusual presentation.

Keywords: Gout, tophus, FNAC.

How to cite this article:
Agarwal K, Pahuja S, Agarwal C, Harbhanjanka A. Fine needle aspiration cytology of Gouty Tophi with review of literature. J Cytol 2007;24:142-5

How to cite this URL:
Agarwal K, Pahuja S, Agarwal C, Harbhanjanka A. Fine needle aspiration cytology of Gouty Tophi with review of literature. J Cytol [serial online] 2007 [cited 2023 Feb 3];24:142-5. Available from:

   Introduction Top

Periarticular nodules can prove to be a challenge to both clinicians and diagnosticians; various causes include rheumatoid nodules, ganglion cysts, pigmented villonodular synovitis, synovial chondromatosis and synovial sarcoma. [1] Gouty tophus is an important differential diagnosis and its diagnosis can be difficult in cases of atypical presentation in the absence of arthritis and /or hyperuricemia. As Fine needle aspiration cytology (FNAC) is becoming a popular clinical practice in diagnosis of soft tissue nodules, it is important for the pathologist to be aware of the microscopic findings and differential diagnosis of tophi. We present clinico-cytological profile of a case of gouty tophi without associated arthritis along with review of literature.

   Case Report Top

A fifty years old male presented with multiple subcutaneous nodules on both the lateral malleoli and medial border of left great toe ranging in size from 0.5-1.5 cm diameter [Figure 1]. These nodules were firm, mobile and non-tender. Patient had no systemic complaints. Radiographs of both the feet (anterior-posterior view) showed extensive soft tissue swellings overlying base of left great toe and bilateral malleoli laterally. No evidence of any calcification or lucency was seen within the swellings. Underlying bones and articular surfaces appeared normal. No definite clinical diagnosis was given and patient was sent for FNAC.

FNAC was performed from all the three sites using a 21-gauge needle. It yielded white, chalky particulate material. Light microscopy of the Giemsa and Papanicolaou (Pap) stained smears demonstrated abundant granular amorphous material and scattered stacks and sheaves of slender needle shaped crystals, few foamy histiocytes, multinucleated foreign body type giant cells and chronic inflammatory infiltrate. Polarizing microscopy of the stained smears using first order red compensator demonstrated yellow negatively birefringent crystals, consistent with monosodium urate (MSU) crystals [Figure 2].

Based on the above findings, diagnosis of gouty tophi was given. On further investigations, patient's uric acid levels were found to be 8.5mg%.

   Discussion Top

Gout is caused by persistent chronic hyperuricemia which can be either primary as a result of inborn errors of purine metabolism or diminished renal excretion of uric acid or can be secondary due to conditions with extensive cell turnover or acquired renal disease. Gout usually manifests as acute arthritis but can also present in the form of asymptomatic hyperuricemia, chronic tophaceous gout or nephrolithiasis. [2]

Tophi are soft tissue masses usually periarticular, that develop after a long standing gouty arthritis. However, they can develop without the concomitant arthritis. Iglesias et al [3] used the term "gout nodulosis" to describe the subcutaneous deposits of MSU without gouty arthritis as initial manifestation. Soft tissue tophi can be mistaken for neoplasm clinically and radiologically. [2]

Diagnosis of gout is easily made in typical cases with presence of arthritis and hyperuricemia. However, arthritis and hyperuricemia may not be present in all the cases. Uric acid levels can be normal especially in diabetics and alcoholics. [2],[4] Radiological features may also be atypical and misleading. The radiological features of gouty arthritis like soft tissue swelling, bone erosion and solid soft tissue masses (tophi) are not specific and can be seen in various benign and malignant disorders. [2] In our case also, patient did not present with any clinical or radiological evidence of arthropathy. Serum uric acid levels were only marginally raised (8.5mg/dl).

FNAC has been under evaluation for the diagnosis of gout. On reviewing literature, we could find only six published reports of FNAC diagnosis of gouty tophi in indexed medical journals. [2],[5],[6],[7],[8],[9] Details of these are shown in [Table 1].

Aspirate in most of the cases was chalky white, particulate with a tendency to get washed off the slides. Nasser et al [6] mentioned the utility of Diff Quick stain in the evaluation of gouty tophi and recommended the use of air dried smears stained with Diff Quick Romanowsky stain. [6] They did not find Papanicolaou stain to be useful for demonstration of MSU crystals and hypothesized that crystals were lost due to hydration steps involved in staining. This view was opposed by others who found crystals in Papanicolaou stained smears as well. [2],[7],[8],[9] We also found crystals and could demonstrate birefringence in Pap stained smears although birefringence was sharper and brighter in air dried Giemsa stained smears. Crystals can also be demonstrated in wet mount preparations from needle washings made by flushing the aspirating needle with absolute alcohol. [6]

Microscopy showed in most of the cases, amorphous or granular myxoid material with foamy histiocytes, multinucleated giant cell and chronic inflammatory infiltrate. Neutrophils [8],[9] and epithelioid cells can also be seen in some cases. [9]

Crystal identification can sometimes be obscured by background blood and inflammatory infiltrate. [6] Paucity of crystalline material with an intense inflammatory reaction may also mask the true nature of the lesion. Sah et al [8] has suggested that presence of amorphous or granular material should alert the cytopathologist to examine the smear under a polarizing microscope to avoid a diagnostic pitfall.

On cytology, differential diagnosis of crystalline tophus includes tumoural calcinosis and tophaceus pseudo-gout [Table 2]. Tophaceous pseudgout is one of the rare clinical forms of calcium pyrophosphate dihydrate crystal deposition (CPPD) disease. It involves massive CPPD crystal deposition in anatomical sites as temporo-mandibular joint, fingers, toes, cervical spine, wrist, hip etc. [10] Though tophaceous gout and pseudo gout may share some clinical features, radiological calcification is relatively uncommon in gout. Moreover CPPD crystals are shorter, more often rhomboid than needle shaped and show positive birefringence. Tumoural calcinosis is an idiopathic condition presenting as swellings around the large joints (hip, elbow, ankle and scapula).The calcified material in tumoural calcinosis is hydroxyapatite in nature and shows amorphous intensely basophilic granular appearance. [10]

To summarize, FNAC is proving to be a valuable tool in elucidating the nature of periarticular nodules. It serves as a good alternative to synovial biopsy and fluid analysis for crystal demonstration. It is less invasive, simpler and cost effective technique as compared to synovial biopsy, which causes more tissue trauma and requires sterile set up. Crystal demonstration has also been seen to be superior in FNAC smears versus histopathology sections in which crystals are more commonly lost during processing. [6] FNAC also has the advantage over joint fluid analysis as coincident crystals like hydroxyapatite and steroid etc in the joint fluid may cause confusion. [6]

FNAC is a simple and effective technique for evaluation of gouty tophi and cytopathologist should be aware of their morphological features especially in cases of atypical presentation

   References Top

1.Dodd LG, Major NM. Fine-needle aspiration cytology of articular and periarticular lesions. Cancer 2002; 96 : 157-65.  Back to cited text no. 1  [PUBMED]  [FULLTEXT]
2.Nicol KK, Ward WG, Pike EJ, Geisinger KR, Capperllari JO, Scott EK. Fine needle aspiration biopsy of gouty tophi; lessons in cost effective patient management. Diagn Cytopathol 1997; 17 : 30-5.  Back to cited text no. 2    
3.Iglesias A, London JC, Saaibi DL, Pena M, Lizarazo H, Gonzalez EB. Gout nodulosis: widespread subcutaneous deposits without gout. Arthritis Care Res 1996; 9 : 74-7.  Back to cited text no. 3    
4.MC Carty DJ. Gout without hyperuricemia. JAMA 1994; 271: 302-3.  Back to cited text no. 4    
5.Nasser IA, Fayyad LM, Soudi NM, Bardawil RG. Fine needle aspiration cytology in the diagnosis of gouty tophi: the role of Diff-Quick stain in the evaluation of unexpected lesions. Acta Cytol 1994; 38 : 840.  Back to cited text no. 5    
6.Rege J, Shet T, Naik L. Fine needle aspiration of tophi for crystal identification in problematic cases of gout. A report of two cases. Acta Cytol 2000; 44 : 433-6.  Back to cited text no. 6    
7.Paik SS, Park MH. Fine needle aspiration cytology of gouty tophus in a patient with rheumatoid arthritis. Acta Cytol 2002; 46 : 1024-5.  Back to cited text no. 7  [PUBMED]  
8.Sah SP, Rani S, Mahto R. Fine needle aspiration of gouty tophi: a report of two cases. Acta Cytol 2002; 46 : 784-5.  Back to cited text no. 8  [PUBMED]  
9.Bhadani PP, Sah SP, Sen R, Singh RK. Diagnostic value of fine needle aspiration cytology in gouty tophi: a report of 7 cases. Acta Cytol 2006; 50 :101-4.  Back to cited text no. 9  [PUBMED]  
10.Ishida T, Dorfan DH, Bullough PG. Tophaceous pseudogout (tumoural calcium pyrophosphate dihydrate crystal deposition disease). Hum Pathol 1995; 26 : 587-93.  Back to cited text no. 10    

Correspondence Address:
C Agarwal
A-86, Sector 27, Noida (U.P.), 201301
Login to access the Email id

Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None

DOI: 10.4103/0970-9371.41906

Rights and Permissions


  [Figure 1], [Figure 2]

  [Table 1], [Table 2]

This article has been cited by
1 Fine Needle Aspiration Cytology- A Rapid Diagnostic Test for Articular and Periarticular Lesions
Manali Swarnasri, Naga Kalyani Pathuri, Mohmed Chandmoula, Triveni Bhopal
Journal of Evidence Based Medicine and Healthcare. 2020; 7(25): 1179
[Pubmed] | [DOI]
2 Gouty tophi presenting as multinodular lateral inguinal swelling: A case report
Nidhi Goel,Venus Khanna,Dileep Kumar Jain,Vivek Gupta
Diagnostic Cytopathology. 2018;
[Pubmed] | [DOI]
3 Aspiration cytopathology of tophaceous gout: a report of 22 patients
Zaibo Li,Ming Jin,Paul E. Wakely
Journal of the American Society of Cytopathology. 2018; 7(3): 149
[Pubmed] | [DOI]
4 Gouty tophi without hyperuricemia, an interesting case diagnosed by fine-needle aspiration cytology
Debashish Bhattacharjee, Santosh K. Mondal, Rudra Narayan Ray, Debjani Basu
Egyptian Rheumatology and Rehabilitation. 2017; 44(3): 139
[Pubmed] | [DOI]
5 Cytodiagnosis of gouty tophus
Vaishali Walke, Sushma Ramraje, Vinod Jadhao
CytoJournal. 2013; 10: 11
[Pubmed] | [DOI]
6 Bursal gouty tophus: Fine-needle aspiration cytology intrabursal tophus on FNAC
Akansha Gandhi, Seema Aggarwal, Apurba Rajbongshi, Vinod Kumar Arora
Diagnostic Cytopathology. 2009; : NA
[VIEW] | [DOI]


    Similar in PUBMED
   Search Pubmed for
   Search in Google Scholar for
 Related articles
    Email Alert *
    Add to My List *
* Registration required (free)  

    Case Report
    Article Figures
    Article Tables

 Article Access Statistics
    PDF Downloaded421    
    Comments [Add]    
    Cited by others 6    

Recommend this journal